From Adams County to Iowa: The Redware Career of Isaac Boyer

By | October 26, 2012

The Isaac Boyer sugar bowl.

The Isaac Boyer redware sugar bowl we will be selling as part of our November 3rd stoneware and redware auction was of a mysterious origin until very recently. (Click here to read our catalog description of this piece.) It seemed to belong to Pennsylvania or elsewhere nearby, but as is always frustrating, Boyer did not bother to state where he was making his “Sager Bole”–and we could not be sure. We received an email from a kind individual who informed us that an Isaac Boyer was a potter in Vernon, Van Buren County, Iowa, beginning around the end of the 1850’s. Digging deeper into this, we found that that Isaac Boyer was born in 1828 in Pennsylvania–making the bowl (dated 1848) a product of a twenty-year-old, and one who very well may have yet resided in his home state at the time of its manufacture. That this is the same Isaac Boyer is a fact basically beyond question, and it seems that, after evaluating the evidence, his bowl was in fact a product of the redware center of Adams County, PA.

While I could provide a detailed run-down of the various census and other records that help flesh out Boyer’s life, the following paragraphs taken from a 1977 genealogy book basically do better than I could with only dry census data. While there is certainly a chance that some of this is at least slightly inaccurate, this is a remarkably detailed narrative of the life of a man who, when still apparently an apprentice, threw a pot that still interests us 150+ years later:

Isaac [Boyer] was the son of Martin Sr. and Hoover Boyer, and was [born December 5, 1828] in Adams County, Pa. … [His parents] lived and died [there]. [The] family used to go to Chesapeake Bay to gather shellfish. The father [died] in 1853 and the mother [circa] 1860, and the family drifted westward. [Note: I believe the correct date for the father’s death is 1833.] Isaac’s brother, Jacob, was the first to come to Iowa. He came with [two associates], bringing a load of liquor on a flatboat to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi and the Des Moines River to Farmington. He was in Indianapolis … from 1832-1842, and when he came to Iowa purchased 160 [acres] of land in … Henry Twp. of Van Buren County … . He married … and remained on the farm where [he and his wife] reared five children. … Isaac, the younger brother, had lived with a cousin, John Boyer, until he was 18 years old. He was then bound out for three years to learn the pottery trade. It was difficult to make a choice between pottery and carpentry, but his aversion to climbing on buildings caused him to complete the pottery apprenticeship. Training completed, he traveled from his Pennsylvania home with a wagon train bound for northern Illinois. He came on a steamboat down the Mississipi to Keokuk, and up the Des Moines River to Vernon [Van Buren County, Iowa], where his brother, Jacob, lived just west of the settlement. He obtained work at the Vernon pottery shop.

[Isaac married his wife, Sydney Harryman, on October 27, 1853 at her home in Van Buren County.] [The couple] lived in Vernon until 1839 [Note: this should read 1859, I believe–certainly not 1839] and [Isaac] continued to work in the pottery shop. He then bought a farm three miles west of Vernon … to which they moved. … In 1864 they bought the Harryman family farm from the heirs. They remained on the farm until 1893 when they moved to Keosauqua where he [died January 23, 1903].

(The above comes from Elijah Harryman … by Ethel Irene Harryman, 1977.)

Bottom of the bowl, inscribed, This Sager Bole was made by Isaac Boyer 1848.

Boyer’s bowl, then, would have been made while he was a couple of years into his apprenticeship in Adams County. Almost all of the records I have seen for Boyer list him as a “farmer,” and this was quite common for American redware potters–a subject I take up in an article I wrote last year about Philip Sipe of Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. Notice also that Boyer’s life is quite similar to that of Pennsylvania potter Adam Ownhouse, who crafted the outstanding redware inkstand we sold in March 2011 (and also a bird whistle in the collection of the Met, I recently learned)–and then, too, left for Iowa.

Boyer’s “Sager Bowl” stands as a remarkable example to which we can attach rare biographical data–and one that, unlike the many anonymous pots of people we will likely never identify as anything more than “farmers,” we can now firmly attribute as a rare signed example of beloved Adams County, Pennsylvania, redware.

Luke Zipp’s Baltimore Stoneware Articles: Henry Remmey and Baltimore Survey

By | August 22, 2012

Henry Remmey's makers mark on a stoneware pitcher made in the 1810's.

This year marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812, but it also marks the bicentennial of an event that–while perhaps nowhere near as impactful on the history of our nation as that aforementioned conflict–did leave an indelible imprint on the history of American ceramics. It was two hundred years ago that Henry Remmey, a remarkable Manhattan potter who had fallen on hard times, moved to Baltimore and quickly set the standard for stoneware production in the Mid-Atlantic region. (If you have any doubt as to what Henry Remmey accomplished in Baltimore, please also have a look at Luke’s article on the earliest dated piece of Baltimore stoneware, also made in 1812.)

It recently came to my attention that The Chipstone Foundation has posted Luke’s important article, Henry Remmey & Son, Late of New York, online for free reading. That article appeared in the 2004 edition of Ceramics in America (published by Chipstone), and was the first to not only flesh out the “lost years” of a man who was arguably America’s greatest stoneware potter, but the first to reveal the long-mysterious origin of “H. MYERS” stoneware. Luke managed to correct a long-standing misconception with his research–one that I am reminded of whenever I see, on now-very-rare occasions, someone label an “H. MYERS” pot as a product of Philadelphia. Having spent many an afternoon with Luke down at the Maryland Historical Society and at the State Archives in Annapolis, the publication of this article was very gratifying for me, and I think it is remarkable that he was able to contribute one of the more important articles published on American stoneware in the last few decades, when he was still in his early twenties.

This article is a comprehensive look at Henry Remmey’s years in Baltimore. I know it is the nature of the passage of time, but I am always amazed whenever–on a trip to Little Italy or elsewhere nearby–we drive by the federal housing project that now occupies the site of a place where some of my favorite pieces of American art were crafted. When you click on the link to read it (below), you will see one image on the left-hand side of the article. These images (with accompanying captions) can be clicked through via the arrow beneath the image.

I am also including, for those who have not seen it or would like to revisit it, Luke’s excellent overview article on Baltimore stoneware, which appeared in Antiques & Fine Art in 2006. This, again, served to educate everyone on what was actually made in Baltimore: the long-standing misconception in this case being that the central figure in Baltimore stoneware production was Peter Herrmann (because he was virtually the only one, later on, who marked his work), and that besides the ubiquitous “clover” designs, Baltimore had very little to offer in the way of stoneware. This was, of course, completely wrong, and Baltimore was one of the chief centers of stoneware production in the entire country, with many prolific artisans churning out their ware.

Henry Remmey & Son, Late of New York: A Rediscovery of a Master Potter’s Lost Years by Luke Zipp (originally published in Ceramics in America, 2004)

Baltimore Stoneware by Luke Zipp (originally published in Antiques & Fine Art, Summer 2006)

Finally, because it is such a good resource on what is actually “out there” in terms of Baltimore pieces, here’s a link to our Baltimore stoneware highlights. This is just a fraction of the Baltimore pottery we’ve sold over the past several years, but this gives a great idea of what the best pieces look like:

Baltimore Stoneware Auction Highlights

I am very excited to be able to discuss Henry Remmey, Sr.–one of my very favorite potters–alongside Thomas Commeraw and others on October 13 at the Gunn Museum in Washington, CT. You can read more about Mark’s and my lecture there by clicking here.

Hacked By GeNErAL

By | May 4, 2012


COMMERAW’S STONEWARE Jug Found in Norwegian Waters

By | April 2, 2012

Farsunds Avis's article on the recent underwater recovery of a Commeraw jug off the Norwegian coast.

About ten days ago, I received an email from a member of a Norwegian dive team. He, along with his fellow divers, had found a jug made by Thomas Commeraw in coastal waters in southeast Norway. This was a great find for their team, and a newsworthy story for the town of Farsund, but it was also exciting to me on multiple levels–one of which being that two of my great-grandparents were Norwegian immigrants. From a purely historical standpoint, however, this was–to my knowledge–the furthest from “home” a piece of Commeraw’s work has ever been found.

I was more than happy to converse with Aase Astri Bakka of Farsunds Avis about Thomas Commeraw and my thoughts on the recovery; her article on the dive team’s discovery was published last week. Since most of you, like me, probably are not able to read Norwegian, Google Translate can create a roughly translated version on the fly. That English version is available here, and you can find the original Norwegian version here.

I am not, of course, sure what Commeraw’s jug was doing all the way over in Norway. I am essentially certain that it was either some passenger’s personal vessel or part of a larger shipment of liquor. While this would be an interesting topic of study that begs to be investigated, I am unaware of any instances in which the American stoneware potters were shipping their ware as a primary product across the Atlantic. They definitely could and would ship their items great distances within the United States, and their products certainly were used to help transport any number of consumable goods from our country to others. But as a houseware, I simply have never seen–in my own research or someone else’s–an instance in which, say, Clarkson Crolius was shipping stoneware across the ocean for use in another country.

The jug itself seems to be one of the smaller examples I have seen. Further photographs and measurements will give me a better idea, but the size of the maker’s mark on the vessel–and the fact that Commeraw apparently could only fit one of his double swag designs (sometimes called “clamshells”) beneath the rim–both tell me that this was an unusually small vessel for Commeraw’s work.

I am excited to discuss this in the book, and I think a lot of you will be as interested as I was to see an example of early New York City stoneware not only end up in the waters off of Norway–but find its way back to the land of the living, two centuries later.

Aaron Radley, Forgotten Philadelphia Stoneware Potter

By | February 27, 2012

Previously unknown potter Aaron Radley's Liberty Bell mug.

In or about 1873, two local cigar makers and a potter from West Troy (now Watervliet), New York, decided to throw their hats into the competitive ring of Philadelphia stoneware manufacture. The result was the completely forgotten pottery concern of “Salinger, Radley & McCusker.” Located in the Frankford / Port Richmond area of the city, the trio’s pottery establishment was dangerously close to one of the more prominent in the entire country, that of Richard C. Remmey–at the time, the latest fruit from the most venerable tree of American stoneware potters. Why the two cigar makers, John P. Salinger and Patrick McCusker, decided to partner with a 45-year-old, not-particularly-successful potter from upstate New York is a question whose answer disappeared along with the ill-fated firm that bore their name. But that potter was none other than Aaron Oliver Radley, born on November 14, 1828 in Albany, New York. His time and place of birth were opportune for anyone wishing to venture into the stoneware business, the prolific shop of Paul Cushman being in full swing at that time, as was that of Moses Tyler and Charles Dillon. When of apprenticeship age, Radley had many convenient, now-famed stoneware shops in which to try his hand at the wheel, most prominently those of William Warner; Nathan Porter (and his associate George B. Fraser); Israel Seymour; Moses Tyler–all within the Albany-Troy corridor.

Seithers' name on Radley's mug.

Radley was noted as a potter working in West Troy circa 1853-66 by Warren Broderick and William Bouck in their 1995 book, Pottery Works: Potteries of New York State’s Capital District and Upper Hudson Region. By 1860, he had married his wife, Elizabeth, and had a few children. He seems to have ended his long-time tenure in the Albany area and immediately traveled to the City of Brotherly Love, where he was potting by 1867 or so, and it was probably the Remmey manufactory that drew him there. But within about five years, Radley was definitely operating his own pottery, under the moniker of “Salinger, Radley, & McCusker.” And it was probably under the auspices of that firm that Radley produced the sole piece of stoneware attributable to him, a mug decorated with an elaborate Liberty Bell design and the accompanying date “1776.” My belief is that it was made in or about 1876, to commemorate the American centennial. Radley made his mug for someone with the last name “Seithers,” that name appearing to both the left and right of the Liberty Bell design. There were a few different individuals in Philadelphia (a family of barbers) during the time period named “Seither,” but the only one I can find who consistently seems to have gone by “Seithers” is also the only man in the entire country who shows up with that last name in the 1880 federal census index: Charles W. Seithers, a Philadelphia tavern keeper and lager seller working over on South 3rd Street during this time period.

Seithers' 1880 census listing juxtaposed with an 1877 city directory entry.

Charles William Seithers was born on or about September 13, 1838 in Bavaria, and emigrated to America in 1852. By 1870, he had married an American woman, had a little girl, and was working as a hotel keeper in Philadelphia. This occupation may have been essentially the same as “Saloon keeper,” the job he shows up at ten years later, in the 1880 census. But Seithers was not just the proprietor of a bar room, he was specifically involved in the relatively new American business of lager beer.

Lager was not really available in the United States until around 1840; some speculate that its relatively late introduction into American homes and pubs was due to the difficulty of transporting its yeast across the Atlantic. The first known American lager brewery was located in Philadelphia, where a Bavarian immigrant (like Seithers) named Johann Wagner successfully managed to get his yeast over from Germany. Initially popular in German communities, lager spread nationally and by the late 1850’s, it was a bigger seller than either ale or porter in Philadelphia. Charles Seithers’ business came as a direct result of this booming new beer industry, and he shows up around the middle of the 1870’s–about the time Radley made his mug–as a lager dealer, perhaps even a brewer.

Radley's signature on the only known piece attributable to him.

How Aaron Radley knew Charles Seithers–or if they were even friends or close associates–is a question I cannot answer. But based on the fact that his mug was specifically, boldly inscribed to Seithers (and hand inscribed on the bottom by Radley), the mug was pretty clearly a presentation piece, and probably made as a gift from Radley to Seithers–as is the case with other comparable pieces of American stoneware. This puts Radley’s mug in a fairly rare category. We can call it so for a number of reasons–the fairly rare form for decorated stoneware; the almost unheard-of decoration of the Liberty Bell; its signature from a previously unknown Philadelphia potter. But as a vessel apparently used specifically for the consumption of lager, unlike so many of the jugs and other vessels made for ambiguous spirituous (or other) liquids, we more or less know exactly what the mug held on a regular basis.

Aaron Oliver Radley's obituary.

By 1877, Patrick McCusker had left Radley’s firm, and it took on the name of “Salinger & Radley.” By the end of the decade this partnership, too, seems to have dissolved and Radley was out on his own. In his later years (around 1885, when he was about 57 years old), he became a grocer and, eventually, a jeweler, maintaining that profession into his 80’s. Aaron Radley died on Halloween, 1914, of some form of pneumonia. Seithers had died a decade prior, on March 8, 1904, of kidney failure at the age of 65. He, too, had given up his profession of the mid-1870’s, and had moved on to barbering. In Radley’s obituary, those memorializing him called him, “one of the oldest residents of Frankford … who opened the first China and glassware house in that section of the city.” I have been unable to find any reference (though one certainly may exist) to Radley owning a merchant’s shop, selling china or glass, and I believe this is probably the case of time or miscommunication getting in the way of the facts. The writer was probably really referring to Radley’s old pottery.

This is yet another case in which two men who may not even be remembered by their own families today, are memorialized by just one object that happened to survive. Aaron Radley probably made thousands of pots in his lifetime; Seithers likewise would have owned countless objects over the course of his life. But this mug, probably produced in the spirit of giving, now gives us another opportunity to peer dimly into the past.

A Note About Sources: As can probably be gleaned from the text, I used applicable Philadelphia city directories, newspapers, and death records, as well as federal census listings for the bulk of my research. For secondary, modern sources, (as noted in the text) I used Broderick & Bouck’s Pottery Works …; for the section on lager, I used Mark A. Noon’s Yuengling: A History of America’s Oldest Brewery heavily.

Some New Insights into the Washington, D.C. Stoneware of Richard Butt

By | February 26, 2012

R. BUTT / W. City, D.C. Stoneware Jar, to be sold as part of our March 3, 2012 auction.

In my article on Washington, D.C. stoneware that appeared in the Autumn 2010 issue of Antiques & Fine Art, I put forth what seems to be the predominant view amongst those who have studied Washington stoneware, and one I share based on years of incisive research–that Butt was “[c]learly not a potter himself.” For those unfamiliar with (but interested in) this subject, please have a look at that article, which is available for free download here; we will be selling an example of Butt’s stoneware on March 3, 2012, and I found this a good opportunity to revisit the subject.

Richard Butt’s stoneware is the most famous of all that made in our nation’s capital, his fairly scarce maker’s mark being the most commonly seen on stoneware produced there. Butt was born into a prominent Montgomery County, Maryland, family and there have been, previously, no real indications that he was a potter. Around 1826, he purchased the earthenware pottery of a virtually unknown local potter named Whitson Canby. Referred to at least in a loose sense as the “Fair-Hill Manufactory” after a nearby home of the same name, apocryphal stories circulating in newspaper articles dating back to the 1940’s tell of eight families of Irish pottery workers who Canby housed in Fair Hill; the ghost of a potter who supposedly hanged himself in the basement was said to haunt the premises prior to it burning to the ground in 1977. (This fact, along with some other interesting tidbits, had to be cut from my article due to necessary space constraints. I hope at some point to put more of my information “out there” in one form or another.)

Earlier in the decade, Butt had run for sheriff in the county, and had also served as deputy sheriff. By around 1830, he moved down into Washington, D.C., and was not only operating a pottery there, but was soon also superintending the Washington Asylum (the local poorhouse)–a job he continued to undertake until 1847, when he was removed for malfeasance. (That saga could constitute a fairly lengthy article in itself.) He also seems to have continued his association with local law enforcement for most of his life; in 1850 he was a participant in the virtually forgotten but nationally scandalized Chaplin affair, in which he and others prevented a local abolitionist from ferrying two runaway slaves into Maryland; Butt was wounded in that altercation. In 1863, President Lincoln appointed him Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Butt turned his pottery over to prolific potter Enoch Burnett around the mid-1840’s, and there is no evidence that he continued any association with the pottery business after that time. In the 1860 census, he shows up as a “Gardener + Toll-Gatherer,” indicating that he was primarily a farmer at this point. But perhaps more importantly, that listing, combined with the rest of his history, shows what was a tendency on Butt’s part to gravitate toward bureaucracy and local government affairs. To make what could be a long story short, quite simply, I have believed for a long time that Butt was basically a merchant-type figure who owned his pottery shops as either a primary income source or perhaps a way to supplement his income. Hugh C. Smith (in nearby Alexandria) and Henry Myers (up the road in Baltimore) are two very good examples of comparable merchant figures who paid potters to make their ware.

We know that one of Butt’s potters was John Walker–until the publication of my aforementioned article, a potter of completely unknown origin, who seemed to have potted briefly in Washington and then fallen off the face of the earth. In actuality, Walker was an English-born salt-glazed stoneware potter who ended up moving down to Kentucky after working in D.C. The work, though, at Butt’s shop is inconsistent in the way that would be expected for a merchant enterprise, where various master potters were superintending the shop.

All of this being said, I have recently come across some interesting information that suggests that Butt may have been, after all, a potter. If he was, I believe he was not a particularly skilled one, probably, and based on his other duties, was probably quick to let other potters perform the bulk of the work for him.

Ink signatures of Richard Butt juxtaposed with the R. Butt inscriptions on the jar we sold in July 2008. Do they match? Was Richard Butt a potter?

The first piece of evidence I located was a copy of an 1862 petition Butt submitted to the federal government, asking for around $1800 in compensation for slaves he had owned that had been freed under the D.C. Emancipation Act. This petition included two signatures of Richard Butt, and I can’t help but think they bear a striking resemblance to the two “R. Butt” inscriptions on the jar we sold in July 2008. At the time, we firmly believed that while the jar was made at one of Butt’s potteries (probably the Montgomery County one), it was merely inscribed by a potter in the manner of his apparently later maker’s marks–not by Butt himself. If the ink and cobalt signatures could be determined to match, I would say that would amount to essentially conclusive evidence that Butt was a potter.

1829 real estate ad placed by Richard Butt in a local Washington paper, which refers to Butt as a 'Stone Potter.'

The second is a real estate advertisement Butt placed in a D.C. newspaper in 1829, which begged, “For further particulars inquire of Mr. Richard Butt, Stone Potter, on 7th Street.” I do not discount the fact that at times pottery owners who were not actually potters were called so in certain period documents, but they would have been done so almost exclusively by third parties who were misspeaking. In this case, Butt himself ran the ad, but whether or not he actually wrote the advertising copy is a question I cannot answer. While, regardless, this does move the scale somewhat in favor of Butt himself being a potter, if Butt penned the words I quoted above, I would say he was, in fact, a bona fide potter.

The inscribed R. Butt jar. If Richard Butt was, in fact, a potter, this jar would be the first we could attribute specifically to his hand.

Washington, D.C. stoneware is a topic I have spent a long time researching, and one that has been very difficult to crack. All the hours my brother, Mark, and I spent at the MLK Memorial Library–just around the corner from Butt’s pottery–are a testament to that, and it still took me years to break down some of the brick walls that enabled me to eventually write my article. Even today, composing this brief article, I came into its writing still unsure whether Richard Butt was a potter or simply a businessman; however, looking over the signatures, rereading the real estate ad, I can’t help but think that Richard Butt was probably, in actuality, a potter. If so, as I said above, he probably was quick to let others work for him, turning his interests to other pursuits. The sole jar that could, in this case, be attributed to Butt himself, was not particularly finely thrown, and bears a decoration not really seen on other area pottery. As with all of my various research pursuits, I will eagerly continue to try to flesh out the story of the potters of our nation’s capital–and hopefully this question, along with others, will eventually find its resolution.

… And Some More Stoneware Videos

By | January 10, 2012

We recently shot several more stoneware-related videos, and here are four of Mark discussing some rare examples. This is something we now plan to make a regular part of our website, and are really enjoying being able to add this kind of content to the internet. With that in mind, we have added a new page to, where all of our videos are available the instant they are added to YouTube:

Thank you for your positive feedback about this latest addition to our website!

Mark talks about the unheard-of Bell family (Shenandoah Valley of Virginia) stoneware face pitcher.

Mark discusses “People” crocks of West Virginia and Southwestern PA in general, but specifically the two examples we will be selling on March 3, 2012.

Mark discusses the small-sized, four-handled stoneware jug (New York State origin) we are selling on March 3.

Still on the topic of New York State stoneware, Mark talks about the profusely decorated presentation flower pot / urn made by William Warner in West Troy, NY.